The history of the Ball Game
The Mayans called it “pokolpok”, the Aztecs “tlachtli” , we are talking about an ancient ball game whose practice dates back some 3,500 years and has been considered as an antecedent of football .
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The Mesoamerican ball game was a ritual game whose practice extended throughout the three thousand years of Mesoamerican pre-Columbian history in all the cultures of the region . At the beginning of the Spanish domination the game was prohibited by the Dominican inquisitors, although without disappearing altogether.
The ulama and the Mixtec ball are similar games that could be a derivation of the old ball game. For its part, the pok-ta-pok or tlachtli is still practiced in Mexico and Guatemala, as a form of regional folklore.
The Mayans played because it was a performance of their story of the creation of the universe . In the Popol Vuh , known as the Mayan Bible, the twin gods went down to hell to play a ball game against demons. They came down because they wanted to collect people’s bones and thus create a new race of humans. The twins won the match and the demons gave them the bones. According to legend this is how the Mayans were created.
In Chichen-Itza is the largest court in all of Mesoamerica, which is 167 meters long. The game fields at Chichén-Itzá were built in the shape of a capital “I” with two uniform walls almost 8 meters high forming the sides. The walls were covered with enjare, as was the floor and had drawings of Mayan gods and demons. At the top were two rings, one on each wall.
The ball, a key element of the game, was manufactured in the following way: the latex collected from the tree known as Castilla elastic was mixed with the juice of the guamol plant. The mixture was transformed into rubber to form the heavy balls that so impressed the Spanish.
The ball is of great importance due not only to its necessary use, but also because the Mesoamerican peoples were 3,500 years ahead of the discovery of the use of rubber with latex for the manufacture of the rubber that is so widely used today.
Rules of the game
Two teams of one to seven players, with a judge , faced each other on a long court divided in two. Throwing directly or making passes. An unvulcanized rubber ball weighing about three kilos had to be touched by any part of the body or permitted implement (mallet, glove, hip, hand, forearm, etc.).
Scores were obtained when the ball was picked up or struck by the opposing team with an unauthorized part of the body or when the ball was dead or lost. Kicking the ball with the foot meant that the opposing team managed to obtain 1 to 4 stripes (so many that were previously agreed) and possession of the ball. As it was exceptional to pass the ball through the ring, when this was achieved the game was won and the player who achieved it was honored with prizes and honors.
The players used, to protect themselves from the blows of the ball, a skirt made of deerskin, cotton, basketwork or wood. The elbows and knees were protected with knee pads and the feet were generally bare or with anklets to avoid any tear or dislocation.
Symbology and meaning of the game
The discussion prevails as to whether a ball player was sacrificed and even if it was the one who won or the one who lost . Or if the court was used for ceremonies associated with war, such as the death of prisoners. What is clear is that the ball game symbolized the struggle between the opposing forces of the universe, the struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness . The ball in constant motion represented the movement of the stars and the forces of creation.
Those who have the opportunity to visit some of the pre-Hispanic cities, such as Chichén Itzá or Uxmal , will discover that there is a ball court in all of them, varying the size according to the time it was made or the importance of the place.